Lifestyle

These SMU graduates invested S$70k to build An Açaí Affair at the age of 20

When Anna Ng and Isabel Lee first met at Singapore Management University (SMU) six years ago, they immediately fell in love. Not only are they good friends, they are also each other’s business partners.

“We both share a passion and interest in healthy eating and healthy foods, and are always interested in new health trends. We usually stick together about açaí bowls, but in 2016 there weren’t many options and they were often expensive and not of the best quality,” said Isabel, co-founder of An Açaí Affair.

“We feel this is a great product that Singaporeans can enjoy, and it would be a waste if not many people know about it. Therefore, we started An Açaí Affair with the aim of making açaí bowls more affordable and accessible to the masses”.

They started An Açaí Affair, now Singapore’s largest açaí specialty cafe, when they were both still in their sophomore years of university. They ran it like a hustle for the next two years until they graduated in 2019.

Aside from the internship, they don’t hold any other company jobs so running this project is their first full-time job.

Açaí was still well known at that time

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Image credit: An Açaí Affair

The fact that açaí weren’t really popular or trending when they first started, is a double-edged sword.

They had to increase their educational efforts about açaí and its health benefits as most Singaporeans are unfamiliar with it. They also wanted to break the stereotype that healthy food is boring or bland, because bowls of açaí are truly delicious superfoods.

During our first year to two, the main struggle was lack of product awareness. There’s a lot of explaining and guiding to do, but we’re glad that most Singaporeans are so open-minded and willing to try this new product.

I believe in the end, the product speaks for itself. People keep coming back because it’s so delicious and refreshing, and it has so many health benefits. We mainly use social media to increase brand and product awareness, but we [also] often have to stand outside our store and hand out free samples, talk to potential customers, answer their questions, etc.

– Isabel Lee, co-founder of An Açaí Affair

Sharing more about açaí berries, Isabel explained that they are native to the Amazon forest in Brazil. It is a dark purple, dense berry-like berry.

They are rich in antioxidants and neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals throughout the body, while promoting the aging process. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and beta-carotene, which help keep hair, skin and nails healthy.

To ensure freshness and quality, they work directly with local communities who mine wild açaí. The açaí berry has its sole origin, in fact, carefully selected from the Cametá region, in Pará, Brazil.

“We serve organic açaí in its purest and least diluted form, with no liquids/artificial sweeteners. This means our açaí bowl has one of the lowest calories and sugar per serving, making it even better for your body,” added Isabel.

Innovation is in their DNA

isabel lee anna ng an acai adultery singapore
Isabel Lee (left) and Anna Ng (right), co-founders of An Açaí Affair / Image Credit: An Açaí Affair

When they first started in 2016, they only had four açaí bowl variations on the menu, but since then they’ve expanded their selection to 10.

Both co-founders work closely in the research and development (R&D) of their products. They will conduct many taste tests and continually tweak it, before perfecting their açaí blend.

The process was so much fun because we had to do a lot of taste testing and experimenting with [different] smell.

We also constantly come up with new menu items/seasonal açaí bowls based on new culinary trends and inspiration we get from different sources. Some examples are the chickpea sorbet and the pear sorbet.

– Isabel Lee, co-founder of An Açaí Affair

She emphasizes that it is important that they constantly innovate their menu so that An Açai Affair can retain a solid value of offering unique açaí bowl variations that are not found anywhere else. other.

Therefore, they make a conscious effort to stay up-to-date with food trends to stay relevant, as well as to cooperate safely to attract consumers.

These are just some of the business strategies they follow to stand out from the saturated and highly competitive F&B industry in Singapore.

They broke even in just eight months

But at the age of 20, how did the young duo even manage to secure the capital to start a business?

We started from scratch and spent around S$60,000 to S$70,000 on renovation, R&D and initial startup costs. We both borrowed from family members to initially [investment]and luckily we managed to break even and pay off the debt after the first eight months or so.

– Isabel Lee, co-founder of An Açaí Affair

However, financing remains a major business challenge today, especially with rising costs. They need to keep prices affordable, deal with rising costs, as well as overcome labor shortages.

Even so, business growth has always been good. In 2019, the co-founders, now 26 years old, were nominated for the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in the startup category, which awards young entrepreneurs in the local startup scene, which is highly encouraging. rate for them.

That same year, it was reported that their flagship store in Kallang was selling an average of 150 bowls per day.

an acai case singapore
Image credit: An Açaí Affair

They opened their first store in Katong in Q4 2016 and have steadily opened 2-4 new stores from 2018 to 2022 (except 2019). Its most recent stores are located in Punggol and Robertson Quay, which opened in the second half of this year.

“Every new store we open is an important milestone for us. When we first started we certainly never expected it to grow to what it is today – 12 stores and counting! ‘ Isabel expressed.

When setting up new stores, they need to be careful to choose a location that is most accessible and of interest, such as popular shopping centers and shophouses.

As they expand and open more stores, they also make sure to maintain their standards – in terms of food, customer service and business.

In fact, An Açaí Affair had to close some stores due to underperformance, such as those at DUO and Telok Ayer. “[We] This has to be done in stride and move on, says Isabel, reflecting their ‘fail quickly and move forward’ mindset.

Strong growth in delivery orders during COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected most businesses, especially those in the F&B sector.

Thankfully, they haven’t been hit hard by the dining restrictions as their business is “very nimble,” relying heavily on takeout and delivery orders.

“The only time we were affected was during the government-ordered closure of dessert establishments [during the circuit breaker period]but luckily, most of our landlords have been quite helpful with rent reductions and discounts.

During this outage, they also began introducing island-wide delivery, and hired drivers and drivers with affected jobs to deliver their products. At the same time, they are also temporarily opening two cloud kitchens in Tampines and Clementi to better manage their growing delivery orders.

an acai case singapore
Image credit: An Açaí Affair

Over the years, we have steadily expanded along with the growth of the açaí industry in Singapore. I can say that more and more Singaporeans eat açaí regularly and it becomes a staple in their diet.

And those who don’t eat it often have at least heard of it, or tried it at least once. It’s a very different scene from five years ago, when perhaps only one or two out of 10 Singaporeans had heard of it.

– Isabel Lee, co-founder of An Açaí Affair

As An Açaí Affair continues to grow, the founders have certainly expanded overseas on their business map. This is something they were thinking about even before the pandemic hit.

“We have set our sights on countries like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, where we definitely have growth potential,” says Isabel. “Anna and I are also constantly looking for other business opportunities, [even beyond the F&B space]. “

Featured image credit: An Açaí Affair

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